Why Should We Sing More Hymns in Church?

Robert Hampshire

Christianity.com Contributing Writer
Updated Feb 22, 2024
Why Should We Sing More Hymns in Church?

We DO need to sing more hymns… but not because they are deeper.

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I have heard for many years people in churches or on social media say something like this: “we need to sing more hymns because they are deeper than modern songs.”

But the problem with that statement is that… it’s simply not true!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I actually agree that we DO need to sing more hymns… but not because they are deeper. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Normally, when someone says that hymns are deeper than “modern” music (or the even more vague title of “contemporary” music), they are suggesting that older songs (pre-1960, in my experience) contain theologically more robust lyrics. Or, to put it simply, they are saying that old songs are full of more truth than new songs (by “new,” someone normally means after the 1960s).

But again — that is just not true.

I can give you many examples of songs written in the last sixty years (which is a very diverse wide range of music to be lumped together) that contain much biblical truth and theological depth. For example, the song “Your Great Name” by Natalie Grant in 2010 lists at least nine specific outcomes of speaking the name of Jesus alongside ten different names given in the Bible for Jesus. Here are the verses:

Lost are saved; find their way; at the sound of your great name
All condemned; feel no shame at the sound of your great name
Every fear has no place at the sound of your great name
The enemy he has to leave at the sound of your great name
All the weak find their strength at the sound of your great name
Hungry souls; receive grace at the sound of your great name
The fatherless find their rest at the sound of your great name
Sick are healed; and the dead are raised; at the sound of your great name
The bridge alone of the song lists six of those explicit names for Jesus:
Redeemer, My Healer, Almighty
My savior, Defender, You are My King

Then, the chorus expresses a worshipful refrain focused clearly on Jesus:

Jesus, Worthy is the Lamb
That was slain for us
Son of God and Man
You are high and lifted up
That all the world will praise your great name
In relatively few words, the song gets rather “deep” theologically.

At the same time, if you were to grab a typical hymnal and start flipping through the pages, you would find no shortage of songs that are neither deep nor necessarily true (you’ll also probably find many songs that you have never heard because your church never sings them - but that is another story!).

My favorite example of this problem would be “I’ll Fly Away,” which was written in 1932 and then renewed by Albert E. Brumley in the 1960s. Here are the lyrics:

Some glad morning when this life is o'er
I'll fly away
To a home on God's celestial shore
I'll fly away
When the shadows of this life have grown
I'll fly away
Like a bird from prison bars has flown
I'll fly away
Just a few more weary days, and then
I'll fly away
To a land where joys shall never end
I'll fly away

The chorus:

I'll fly away, O glory
I'll fly away (in the morning)
When I die, hallelujah by and by
I'll fly away

While this is a fun, celebrative song covered by many artists across all kinds of people inside and outside of the church, Scripture does not tell us that we will “fly” to meet the Lord; we have no idea if we will meet Jesus in the morning, and Heaven does not have a “shore” that we know of. But even if you excuse my petty critiques by calling those phrases metaphorical (to which I would agree), you would still have to admit that the song is theologically shallow. That is probably why it has become so popular, even with secular artists. And that’s okay — because it is not a “hymn,” at least not by definition.

According to the church worship music categories given to us in Colossians 3:16, it is more of a “spiritual song.” A spiritual song is about our spiritual or Christian experience. We might also call them “gospel” songs.

A “hymn,” in contrast, is a praise song to or about God. In fact, to call a song a “worship” song or “praise” song is about as perfect of a synonym to “hymn” as you can get.

When using those definitions (instead of definitions based on musical era or preference), you would probably discover that many or even most of the songs in a typical hymnal are “spiritual songs” and not “hymns” at all.

One quick way to determine which category a song fits into is by the direction of the lyrics. If a song is written from the “first person point of view” and is generally about I, me, or we, then it’s probably a spiritual song. If a song’s lyrics are obviously written to or about God, it is probably a hymn.

Despite these categories, some people still might say that older songs are “deeper” than newer songs. But here is what I have found: many older songs DO contain more words, more verses (or stanzas), and often even cover a wider range of doctrines (and for good reasons).

However, more is not always better, and it is definitely not always deeper. In fact, I would argue that it is possible to use many words to talk about a variety of topics or doctrines and stay relatively shallow about all of them. At the same time, it is possible to use fewer words or verses and still dig deeply into one topic or doctrine. And with the Book of Psalms as an example, repetition can also be used to really drive home a point and develop a deep understanding of a message.

So what is my point? Good question!

My point is that we can never use the age, musical era, style, structure, familiarity, or author of a song as a determining factor of a song’s truthfulness or depth. These factors definitely do not determine whether a song pleases God or not because he does not care about those things — he cares about our hearts.

Instead, we must take an honest look at the lyrics themselves. If they are biblically true, then they are cleared for us to sing. It’s that simple.

Photo Credit: ©Nathan Mullet/Unsplash

Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, church planter, and now Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Cheraw First Baptist Church in South Carolina. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking, and his YouTube channel. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.

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